Finding a way to fit in
For anyone who has a childhood memory of being left out of a game or not invited to a birthday party, there’s something both familiar and heart-breaking about the title of Caroline Maguire’s new book, Why Will No One Play with Me?
When children have behavioral issues that make it hard for them to make or keep friends, it can be painful for them and agonizing for parents, who often feel uncertain how to help. Caroline’s book, which Publisher’s Weekly calls a “thoughtful, compassionate primer to helping children overcome social challenges,"is designed to help both those children and their parents.
As a coach who works primarily with children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Caroline had a lot of experience with kids who struggle socially. While feeling lonely or left out is nothing new, she notes, children’s social lives these days are very different.
“Nowadays kids have playdates, and if you don’t get asked back because you’re a more challenging kid, you get isolated very, very young. When I was young, I played with kids in my neighborhood, one of whom I realized later had a disability. But because we were all from the same neighborhood, we all played together. And yes, eventually people were left out or formed cliques, but it wasn’t when you were five years old.”
Caroline noticed that the parents of children who were being excluded were also feeling left out because they weren’t being asked over for playdates and coffee, and they were desperate to help their children. “When kids are challenging, it’s really hard. As a parent, you think ‘well if I just hover more, then it will get better, I can fix it.’ And that’s not really true but it might feel true.”
Empowering parents and caregivers
She realized that there were few resources designed specifically for parents. “Everything I went to was written for professionals. I realized that we needed a guide for parents that’s jargon- free, that gives parents the information they need. And now that I’m traveling throughout the country, I realize that the need is even greater than I thought.”
Caroline came to Lesley looking specifically for a program that would help her write what would become Why Will No One Play with Me?“The independent study program was the only one in Boston that would allow me to try to write this book—to get the research, the knowledge, that sat down with me and said ‘OK if your goal is to write this book then you need to know about early childhood development; you need to know about autism; you need to know how social skills are formed and how to handle peer rejection.’ I got such a vast education at Lesley.”
Finding inspiration at Lesley
She originally planned to write a guide to help parents of kids with ADHD develop their child’s social skills but professors Mary Mindess and Marion Nesbit who teach in the Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences both encouraged her to apply her ideas to a broader range of children. “They had that understanding of the wider audience because of the work that they did and they also guided me and shepherded me to make so many decisions that I think I wouldn’t have made if I hadn’t had them. They understand child development from the inside out so they understand when things are not moving in an easy progression.”
She continued to coach kids throughout her time at Lesley, adding a hands-on element to her research work. “Everything that I learned I practiced in the field; every social skills lesson in that book I honed over the years with kids. There were so many realizations that I had that came from the knowledge that I got at Lesley and the fact that I knew I needed to work in the field in order to really hone this and it really all goes back to Lesley.”
Her goal? To empower parents to help their children in a constructive way. She’d also like to see the book reach more educators, “I know that teachers are absolutely besieged, but so many issues around social skills spill over at school. If they can infuse it into the classroom and do some one-on-one coaching, it’s going to make their lives easier. If I was queen, I’d also educate every aide, because everything happens on the playground and on the bus.”
Big ideas come from a life of learning
Between coaching, visiting school and parent groups, and promoting the book through her website, Caroline is extra busy these days, which suits her well. “Multi-tasking is one of my superpowers!” She looks back on her time at Lesley as a game changer. “My professors were so in the know and so cutting-edge and aware of what children are facing. It really empowered me. When you don’t have a PhD or you’re embarking on a masters...many people made me feel like you can’t be a ground-breaker unless you’re a luminary. What I loved about Mary and the program is that they don’t assume that everything we know now is the end-all-be-all. She didn’t make me feel like I needed to be at the end of my education to be breaking ground. She told me that big ideas can come from anywhere.”